Monday, January 2, 2012

The First and the Best

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

2 Corinthians 9:7

Each man should give
what he has decided
in his heart to give,
not reluctantly
or under compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.

1 Chronicles 29:11

11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power
   and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
   for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom;
   you are exalted as head over all.

I thought I had a great idea of talking about the practice in Old Testament of First Fruits as I have sat here to right I have struggled to tie my thoughts together. Without being real detailed about Old Testament law and practice, I think there is a principle to at least be considered in the idea of Firstfruits.

Israel was a very agricultural society. Their feasts and celebrations went along with the agricultural nature of their life. They celebrated at planting and at the harvest, they gave the best of their live stock as an offering to the Lord. While I don't want to get into a big discussion on offerings or your giving practices I do see that through out the Old Testament and even the New that for some reason "Firsts or Beginnings" are important to the Lord. Here is one example of Firstfruits from Deuteronomy 26:1-3 1 When you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our forefathers to give us.” Basically it was the practice of giving back a portion of your harvest to the Lord in the form of an offering.  There was also the idea that the first born male child or animal also belonged to the Lord one had to make an offering to the Lord to redeem that first born.  So it seems the first of things are important to the Lord.

I am not saying that we should become legalistic in this but at the first of each year I try to be mindful of how I am using the first of my year. Are the things I am choosing to do honoring the Lord?  Jesus gave His life so we can be in relationship with God the Father. I don't think God established this practice just to give the people one more thing to do but as a way to help them develop thankfulness and a realization that everything they had belonged to the Lord and they should give back in some way.

So as we enter into the "First" of this year it seems important to consider how we will spend it. Will we spend it seeking God and His direction for the rest of the year? Will we spend it serving others? Will we make time for the Lord and His Kingdom in our daily life? Will we check to see that our attitudes and behavior honors God?  It seems to me that if...I believe what it says in Galatians 2:20
"20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
That I need to learn to walk closely with the Lord. It is not "here are my plans for the year - God bless me" but rather "what are your plans Lord, and how might you want to use me in them".  Maybe I am making some of you a little uncomfortable. Please don't think that you must become super religious and pious or run off to become a hermit.  I don't think us becoming separated off in our little Christian conclaves to be God design or purpose for us. I think rather that He has called us to be "Salt and Light" in our world. We must allow the love and life of Jesus to so permeate our life that it becomes a part of  everything we do, and everything we are. We should be living Bibles. Not that we go around quoting bible verses at people but we should be living out the truths of the Bible. People should see how we live and wonder about what makes us different. We should be salty, salt makes people thirsty, thirsty people need living water and we should be ready to take them to the source.

I know it is fashionable to think that we have done our "God thing" by going to church on Sunday or Wednesday and to think that we have taken care of our religious obligations. While gathering together as believers is wonderful and important, it is our daily life lived out before the Lord that is really the crux of the issue. Am I giving the Lord the first and the best of my life? 

I like to give the Lord the first of my day in the time I spend talking to Him, listening to Him, reading the Word or being inspired by various devotionals or books sometimes music. For me it sets my day off in a right direction. It seems to me that on those days that I know that the Lord is ordering and directing my day. In much the same way I like to think of the first month of the year as a time to seek God for direction for the rest of the year.  I guess I have just come to believe that "firsts' are important to Him. For me it is a small way that I can honor and thank Him for all that He is working and doing in my life. I remember that my sin deserves death on a cross but Jesus took the punishment I deserved. I like to keep the idea of seeking "first" the kingdom of God and all these other things will be added unto you" as my standard, so to speak, of how I order my life. Granted I am as human as you, and I on my best days fall horribly short of Gods holy standard and every day I am thankful that Jesus makes up the difference.

There is a story in Luke 17:11-19 About ten guys who get healed of Leprosy
 11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

You might think I am heading off on a tangent why are we talking about Lepers when this is supposed to be about giving our first fruits.  I think it is interesting that out of the 10 who were healed only one returns to say thank you. The first thing that man wanted to do was to come and thank the one who had healed him. He was not even from Israel he was a Samaritan a kind of mixed bunch of folks. They were a people that claim descent from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph and there is probably a bit of Levite mixed in.  They were considered inferior half breads to the Jewish folks of Jesus's day. This is not the only time the faith of a Samaritan is commended by Jesus. The story of the woman at the well is about a Samaritan woman. Everyone has heard the story of the Good Samaritan.  It is not your pedigree that so much mattered to Jesus as your heart to believe.  I think it is interesting to see Jesus's reaction to foreigners who responded rightly or by faith. Go back to the story of the 3 Magi. They were not from Israel, yet they had studied and waited and watched for this king to come. The people who Jesus came to - who were supposed to be Gods people were clueless.

I don't seem to be staying as focused as I would like to in this one. Bear with me as I try to tie all these loose thoughts together into a cohesive whole.  I guess my point is that this is the first part of a new year. What we do with first things seems to be important to God. While there are probably teachers who can do this subject more justice, my purpose is to be more of an encourager. As I have read my Bible I see in it that first things are important to the Lord. It causes me to scratch my head and say hmmmm.... I wonder why?  Like the leper that came back I want my "firsts" to be ones of thankfulness. God has healed me, set me free, redeemed me, prepared a place for me in heaven, poured out His life blood to pay for my sin. He's gotten me through the past year. I think I should stop and reflect on the things I have to thank Him for and honor Him to say - "Here's a new year, the next chapter of your story of my life and take some time to get a bit of a sense of where we might be going. I realize that abiding is an on going thing in the life of believers, or at least it should be.  I'm not saying that you should take a day or a month of prayer but perhaps be a bit more attentive to the Holy Spirit during it. How that works out in your life may look vastly different from mine. Thats ok, you have your very own personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus knows how he wired you, and what makes you tick, as well as his plans and purposes for your life. Each is unique what we hold in common is the need to abide in Him.  I guess my question to you is will you be like the one guy that came back to say thank you or like the other nine who just went on their way.

Dear Lord,
We come to you in the first days of this New Year and we remember all you have done for us. We come to you with thankful hearts. Lord we come and commit this New Year to you. We invite you to work out your plans and purposes in our lives. We desire to come to you as not just willing servant but as your friends. Walk with us day by day, help us to know you more deeply. Make our lives fruitful for your kingdom purpose.  Help us to be cheerful givers of our lives, our time, our talents and our treasures this year. Thank you for the work you are doing in our lives to conform us to your image.

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